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History White Servants in Barbados (Dissertation Review Sample)



A Dissertation presented by
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In Partial Fulfillment of the requirements of
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The system of indentured was supported in America and the Caribbean in the 16th and 17th centuries by plantations owners, and other free White citizens because it gave assurance that there would be reliable sources of labor for as long as it was required. In places such as Virginian and Barbados, where the plantation owners thrived on the labor of indentured servants and slaves, this labor was mostly required in sugarcane, and tobacco fields. At first, indentured servants were treated in the same way that slaves that had been imported from Africa were treated. At one time, the indentured servants were even subjected to worse treatment than the African slaves because they were not as expensive to purchase as the Africans. However, various petitions for better treatment, and even freedom were heard in the Barbadian, as well as British Parliaments; resulting in improved working conditions for indentured servants in places like Barbados. In 1652 and 1661, there would be new rules ratified in Barbados which allowed indentured servants to be distinguished from slaves, and treated in more humane ways as well. This would mark the beginning of the wholesale exploitation of African slaves in ways that had not been commonly practiced over most of the Western hemisphere before 1661.
Acts Supporting Indentured Servitude
The General Assembly in Barbados enacted certain laws in 1652 that were mainly aimed at determining how masters were to deal with their indentured servants, who by then, had increased in number. Even though there were almost as many African slaves as indentured servants in Barbados by 1652, the legislation passed was more damning for indentured servants. The 1652 code gave numerous descriptions of punishments that were to be meted out on disobedient indentured servants by their masters. Servants were also forbidden from hitting their masters in any circumstance, violating the Sabbath, pilfering property or livestock, and even from marrying. The female indentured servants were forbidden, under pain of severe penalty, from falling pregnant while still serving their masters. Errant indentured servants could be lashed, or have their ears lopped off. Laws regarding matters concerning African slaves in the 1652 Act did not give as many warnings as those given to indentured servants. It is evident, from these laws that it was quite common for indentured servants to flee from their masters due to mistreatment, or fear of death. Indentured servants also appear to have fought often with their overseers in plantations due to the warnings that were enshrined in the 1652 laws warning against this behavior.
The General Assembly of Barbados would pass other slave codes in 1661 that appeared to emphasize more on the functions of slaves. The 1661 laws had small modifications that appeared to distinguish between the treatment visited on indentured servants, and that suffered by African slaves. This code would be revised yet again in 1676, 1682, and 1688. Even though indentured servants still existed in fewer groups in Barbados, they were allowed more rights in these subsequent revisions, while African slaves were forced to conform to inhuman living conditions. The slave code of Barbados would serve as the basis for similar laws passed in Antigua, Jamaica, and South Carolina in America.
The Lives of Indentured Slaves
Indentured servants were either captured and forcibly shipped to the colonies to work as laborers, or sold themselves into service due to desperation and lack. The English Civil War resulted in the mass exploitation of persons that were considered undesirable in the British Isles. The Irish, in particular, were targeted due to their Catholicism, by Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England. However, other precincts also sought to expel characters that were deemed undesirable to distant colonies. In Edinburgh, Scotland, the judges ordered the expulsion of a large section of the population that made life unpleasant for the upper-classes. This took place from 1662 to 1665. Local governments actually played a very active role in the expulsion of rogues, criminals, and kidnapped citizens as laborers to the colonies. In recordings of Virginian Statutes of the time, it is evident that the then authorities did not distinguish White bondage from Black bondage. A 1659 petition from the indentured servants, Oxenbridge Foyle and Marcellus Rivers to the British Parliament proves just how the indentured viewed themselves; as the two servants emphasized that they viewed themselves as ‘England’s Slaves as well as merchandise’.
The shocking treatment to which the indentured servants were subjected shocked even the African slaves. Records from the then Public Records Office in 1667 document that even African slaves referred to indentured servants as the ‘White slaves’. The reality is that, as early as 1640, the English government had come to the realization that white labor had the potential of being extremely profitable if exploited in the right way. In places such as Barbados, slavery had been accepted as a valuable institution as far back as 1627. It is established, as documented in the Calendar of State Papers, that there were 21, 700 White slaves in the island by 1701. The free White citizens in America as well as Barbados did not hide the fact that they considered indentured servants as property. Virginia’s first General Assembly Speaker, John Pory, would declare that ‘White slaves are our most valuable principle of wealth’ in 1619.
This support from powerful elements in Barbados as well as the American colonies merely served to make life harder for indentured servants. Even as ordinary citizens were kidnapped in the continent, and forced into boats and ships bound for the colonies, they did not fetch as much money as African slaves. This merely resulted in them being mistreated. A record of the procurement of slaves and indentured servants in the 17th century asserts that due to the fact that African slaves cost more than indentured servants to purchase, they were treated with more care than the White wretches.
Conditions of Indentured Servitude in Barbados and Virginia
Indentured servants lived in some of the worst conditions in the American and Caribbean colonies as they had been forced to go there against their will, or due to impossible hardships encountered in their nation of origin. Irish indentured servants, in particular, suffered unimaginable hardships in England during the reign of Cromwell. From 1641 to 1653, they were faced with famines, massacres during the civil war, and disease outbreaks like plague. The English government extended, in 1652’s Act of Settlement, false promises of peace as long as the Irish consented to be treated as second class citizens in their own land. This merely resulted in the transplantation of more than 40, 000 Irish citizens to Connacht where they could be marshaled and directed to ships to the colonies. Irish soldiers were even given the opportunity to serve with the French as well as Spanish armies. This left the Irish virtually defenseless.
The weak, or disabled Irish men, as well as Irish widows and children who could not be forced to enlist in foreign armies would make up the first shipment of indentured servants to places like Barbados from 1649. Upon their arrival, they would be sold or rented to plantation owners in the island. The authorities in the West Indian island, though, were less than pleased with this wholesale dumping of unwanted Irish upon their shores. It is an established fact that by the mid 1650s, Irish indentured servants made up the largest percentage of indentured servants in Barbados. The English plantations viewed the Irish as being a special problem, because they had proved in the mother country, that they could organize themselves into armed resistance. This was a contributing factor in the gradual development of the preference for African slaves.
Indentured servants, as well as slaves, all suffered deeply due to the deplorable conditions in which they were forced to live. An English adventurer, John Scott, would write of seeing indentured servants and slaves laboring in the fields in the scorching sun, in the course of his travels to the West Indies. He added that the indentured servants of Irish extraction were often scorned by the African slaves. Even though the indentured servants could look forward to being free citizens if they completed their terms of service, they were not fed as well as the African slaves who were viewed as being a good investment because they were accustomed to the hot climate and could work well in the prevailing climatic conditions. The African slaves also appeared to be able to deal better with tropical diseases, and multiply in number.
Eyewitnesses would confirm that indentured servants were actually treated worse than African slaves at this time. Barbadian society in the 17th century had three classes- those of the Masters, slaves, and servants. Servants who arrived at the island at an age of more than 17 years were only supposed to serve for four years at their Master’s behest. However, indentured servants under the age of seventeen had to adhere to the stipulations of the agreement agree upon by the plantation owner, and the owner of the ship that transported them from Britain. Upon completing their term of service, indentured servants had the right o expect to be offered a piece of land by their former master.
Many, though, would not live to see their emancipation due to the extremely cruel treatment that t...
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